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Arts center eyed for the former site of Brandon Training School

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Posted on October 3, 2011 |
By Lee J. Kahrs



BRANDON — A community-based music and arts center is planned for the last empty building at the former Brandon Training School.

Stephen and Edna Sutton, owners of Brandon Music, a classical music distribution and production company on Brandon’s Country Club Road, have bought Building K in Park Village with the intent of turning the long–empty, derelict building into a music and arts destination.

“We looked at and thought, ‘The potential is there,’” Stephen said. “The extent will depend on how each stage goes.”

The Suttons plan to create a space devoted to every arm of the arts, from recording studios and rehearsal space to a concert hall and jazz/recital lounge, a café/restaurant, studios for artists and sculptors, an exhibition gallery, a theater rehearsal space, music teaching facilities, a dance studio and a music therapy center.

The building will also house Sutton’s extensive phonograph museum, currently located in a separate space on Country Club Road.

The 52,000-square-foot building boasts more than 100 rooms. It was built in 1962 and was used to treat the most mentally disabled patients at the Brandon Training School, Stephen said. The large, one-story brick building currently has a distinctly institutional feel. There is a main area at the entrance, then the building branches off into four wings in a “X” shape.

The Brandon Training School was established in 1915 as Vermont’s only public institution for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Over the years, roughly 2,300 people lived there. The school housed more than 600 residents and employed an even greater number of caregivers and associated workers. The concept of community residency and group homes for those with developmental disabilities gradually made the 426-acre, 43-building complex obsolete and led to its closure in 1993.

The land and the buildings were renamed Park Village and a number of the structures became apartment houses. Brandon chiropractor Charles Foster has his practice in one of the buildings, and the Rutland County Parent-Child Center operates out of another building. The Otter Valley North high school campus is also located at Park Village.

The Suttons purchased Building K from the McKernon Group, which is headquartered at Park Village in the former carriage barn.

FEEDING A NEED

The couple, who is British and has been working toward U.S. citizenship for three years, plans to move the worldwide headquarters for Brandon Music and their classical and world music label, the Divine Art Recordings Group, into the space.

Stephen Sutton said he and his wife have met so many creative people since moving to Brandon in 2005 and establishing Brandon Music in 2008, they feel there should be a local music and arts epicenter.

“We’ve already been approached by many artists in town looking for space,” he said, adding that they are planning a wing in Building K for artists’ studios.

Stephen said they have no intention of stepping on the toes of the Brandon Artists Guild, which accepts artists through a juried selection process.

“We’re not aiming to take away anything from anybody,” he said. “More to enhance what’s already here, because we’ve been told there’s a need.”

Edna Sutton said the whole concept is about creating a melting pot of creativity.

“It’s about joining up the arts,” she said excitedly. “Letting it swirl, letting it feed each other. It’s vibrant in this community. It could really pop. I’m amazed at how many creative people live within such a small radius.”

A NEW APPROACH

The Suttons ascribe to a three-pronged philosophy that is the driving force behind the idea for the center.

“It’s about looking at the arts from all different ways,” Edna said. “Creating, teaching and healing. Achieving the widest possible experience of and to different forms of art.”

Music therapy and a music retreat space are two important pieces of that approach. Stephen said there are writers and artists retreats in the Green Mountain State, but there is currently no retreat facility for musicians. He said they hope to create such a place, and will attract musicians from around the U.S. and the world.

The Suttons also hope to create a resource for folks currently living right in Park Village, which lies about a mile from Brandon’s downtown. They hope to have a diner or café within the center open to the public, and expect to offer a number of part-time and full-time jobs.

“It gives the town a second center,” Stephen said. “If we can drag together all the people we’ve met who need a space, the potential is there to create more things for people in Brandon to do, to be involved with and employed by.”

THE COST OF A DREAM

The Suttons said they expect it will take $4.25 million to transform Building K into such a vision, and the fund-raising will be as creative as it’s future inhabitants. The Suttons will be forming a non-profit corporation to oversee and fund the center. They want to establish a community-based cooperative for artists and area residents to support the effort, but they also plan to launch a massive a appeal for funding, sponsorship, and patronage outside Brandon as well.

“We’ve got to attract support from a wider base,” Stephen said. “We’re talking to people from around the U.S. and around the world.”

At the least, Stephen said it will take about $1.25 million to make the building even functional. Sitting vacant for almost 20 years, there are drainage issues that kept a foot of water in the basement. The plumbing and wiring need to be updated and the sewer system needs an overhaul and work is already underway. The couple hope to have at least one wing habitable and move their offices to the building by Christmas.

Stephen said he will also be happy to rent space to anyone for business purposes, as there is more than enough room.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

While they admit that the flood recovery takes precedence statewide, Edna Sutton said there is also an opportunity.

“Eyes are on Vermont with the flood damage and this is a way to get eyes on Vermont in a different way,” she said. “And, if we don’t hit back at what’s going on around us, we’re doomed. We’ve got to get this sort of energy and we’ve got to hit it back.”

Her husband took a simply practical approach.

“We just need a bit of carpet, a bit of paint and some lights, then people can visualize themselves there,” he said. “It’ll be huge. All we have to do is raise 99 percent of the funding.”

For more information on the project, contact Stephen and Edna Sutton at Brandon Music, 465-4071.

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